From Research to Practice: Dropout Prevention and Early Warning Indicators

Research to Practice is a new CCRS Center blog series. Each month, CCRS Center staff will highlight the latest research from the Regional Educational Laboratories on college and career readiness topics. This is the first in the series.

The announcement by Governor Susana Martinez of New Mexico to seek funding for a statewide early warning system illustrates a continued focus of state policymakers and educators on lowering the high school dropout rate. As states, including New Mexico, develop and implement dropout prevention strategies, it is important to look at existing research.

Early warning systems and on-track indicators are one strategy states and districts are implementing, and research conducted by the Consortium on Chicago School Research at the University of Chicago has found that use of a freshman on-track indicator is effective at identifying which students are at-risk of dropping out. Identifying at-risk students is a prerequisite to providing supports and interventions. This research supports New Mexico’s new policy priority as well as other states looking towards early warning systems and on-track indicators.

Fortunately, our understanding of proven, effective approaches to dropout prevention will expand over the coming year. A number of REL research reports and reviews are underway that will contribute to the research on dropout prevention approaches and policies.

  • Early Warning Indicators of High School Dropout for English Language Learners in Road Map Districts
    The REL Northwest, along with the seven districts participating in the Road Map Project, is currently examining college graduation rates and pathways towards completion among English language learners (ELL) using early warning indicators at the high school level to identify potential risk for dropout. The goal of the Road Map Project is to double the number of students in South King County and South Seattle, Washington on track to graduate college- and career-ready by 2020 through a shared action plan. Two key indicators are being monitored for efficacy in predicting dropout rates for ELLs students, and through the results of this study, cut points will be adjusted in order to more accurately identify at-risk ELLs students. Additionally, the results will be used to inform practice on effective instruction, appropriate intervention, and other needed supports for ELL students.
  • Early Identification of Students Likely to Drop Out or Graduate on Time From Oregon Leadership Network Schools
    Districts in the Oregon Leadership Network (OLN) alliance, along with the REL Northwest, are working toward creating a model that can effectively predict high school dropout and on-time graduation rates among sub-groups of students. The study will include data on ninth grade student demographics, academic and social behaviors, achievement rates, and special education programming and attendance rates.
  • Affective and Cognitive Engagement Survey of Rural Students in Pennsylvania
    Seneca Highlands Intermediate Unit 9 (IU9), BLaST Intermediate Unit 17 (IU17) and members of the REL Mid-Atlantic Rural Student College Readiness Research Alliance are working to provide an empirical description of rural student engagement levels as a response to discussions on high school dropout prevention. The results of this study will allow districts and schools to establish a predictor of positive academic and social outcomes and identify appropriate interventions to increase the levels of engagement in struggling students across grade levels.
  • Local Validation of Early Warning Indicators
    The REL Midwest is currently working with three Ohio school districts to establish and validate a set of early warning indicators for each district that correspond to local student characteristics and district needs. The results of this study can identify indicators of on-track graduation, as well as the respective thresholds to be considered a graduate. Predictors will be drawn from eighth and ninth grade student data and will be tested for reliability in predicting four-year graduation across these districts and variation between districts.

What are the early warning or on-track indicator approaches to dropout prevention taken by states and districts in your area? What other relevant research would you recommend for educators and policymakers to use when making decisions about developing early warning systems or on-track indicators? Share your ideas and thoughts in the comment section below!

David Blumenthal is a research associate with the College and Career Readiness and Success Center.


My focus here is one the impact dropping out has on a student who does so. I know colleges try to keep those statistics away from public view but if thier students could see how many of their fellow students are struggling and dropping out it could help them see the bigger picture and feel better about themselves!

Add new comment

Filtered HTML

  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Allowed HTML tags: <a> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote> <code> <ul> <ol> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <i>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
To prevent automated spam submissions leave this field empty.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.
2 + 12 =
Solve this simple math problem and enter the result. E.g. for 1+3, enter 4.